When I first went to CalArts in 1987 the very first class I had on my first day was design class. I thought to myself, "I'm going to be a big-time animator. Who needs design?" and I would spend much of my time in the class sitting and drawing (and not listening) while our great design teacher Bob Winquist talked, which is pretty much how I got through high school.
It only took me about fifteen years to realize that design is the key to everything in our business, especially being a big-time animator.
People who can draw well are good designers. Much of what we think of as "good draftsmanship" is just good design.
For years and years I thought that the key to good draftsmanship was knowing the structure of things. I thought I would produce good life drawings if I knew every muscle and every bone. I used to spend a lot of my free time drawing from anatomy books.
Then I read one of Robert Fawcett's books on life drawing. He claimed that he didn't really know all of the muscles. Basically he claimed he looked at the model and drew what he saw. He used the properties of design to create a pleasing drawing.
When I read this it was so shocking to me that I didn't understand it at first.
It makes total sense though. Maybe this is obvious to most of you. When you look at a great life drawing, are you responding to the fact that the scapula is in the right place? Or are you responding to the graceful curves of the body captured on paper, and the way they seem to occupy space, even though they are drawn on flat paper?
The latter, of course, but I never thought about that, or the implications of that: design is more important to a successful drawing than knowledge of structure. Don't get me wrong, I think a knowledge of structure is important too, but I think it's secondary to a good sense of design.
I've known a lot of people who could draw really well, and I have to say that I think most of them had a natural sense of design. They weren't completely aware of how they were exploiting good design, because it came naturally to them. I think that it's hard for people like that to articulate what they are doing because it comes effortlessly to them and they aren't really conscious of it. Then there are other people who have to learn design and make a deliberate effort to use it while they draw. These people may not always be the best artists but sometimes are probably better teachers because they can speak a bit more about what they are doing.
You may already know all of this or you may think that it is nonsense. But you can't deny that certain drawings are very powerful and have a deep impact on you when you see them. You don't always know why but you gravitate towards that drawing. And another drawing you see may not appeal to you very much. Why? It has to be design. There are certain elements of design that everyone seems to respond to. But there seems to be a frustrating lack of material written about design and what makes it work. And what you can find written about design is about design in the abstract and doesn't specifically apply to what we do.
So I made a list the other day of all the design principles I can think of and I am going to try and illustrate all of them here with examples. It may take a while to get through them all.
The internet is wonderful because so many people post amazing artwork. You can surf from blog to blog and see one piece of amazing art after another.
But just letting great artwork wash over you doesn't teach you much. What makes it work? Why is one piece better than another? These are the questions I always wonder about, and nobody ever seems to address. Or am I just not going to the good sites?
You have the ability to figure all this out yourself. Every artist makes choices. Just stop, look at the beautiful artwork, and ask yourself: why did they do this? Why did they do that?
Anyway, that's what I did here here. I figured I would start with some "simple" drawings. By that I mean there's not a lot of distracting rendering or anything. But there's no doubt this drawing is striking. So why is that? I am simply trying to analyze what makes me respond to the drawing. I am trying to articulate and analyze something that I feel in my gut...not easy to do.
I am formatting these on 8 1/2 by 11 paper so I can print them out and keep them in a binder that I have been filling with stuff on drawing for a couple of years now. Feel free to do the same.
Click to read and see these better.
As always leave a comment if you get something out of what I've written. If you think it's all hogwash then tell me that too. Any viewpoints or observations from others are always welcome.