Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Things They Don't Teach in Art School #1

I recently came across this Iago drawing from "Aladdin" as it's for sale on the Van Eaton Galleries website, and it inspired to write about a simple thing that nobody ever told me that took me years to figure out. It has to do with stuff we've already covered: namely, avoiding parallels and using different kinds of shapes to keep things interesting.

Specifically, it involves the shapes around the area of Iago's belly, where the two wings stick out in front of and behind his stomach.

The easiest way to show you what I'm talking about is to draw over it and show you what would make the drawing weaker. If you redraw the wings and the belly so that the lines are all parallel and the same kind of shape, the area becomes meaningless. It becomes flat and static and it becomes hard to tell what you are looking at.

But when we look at the original again, we see that the artist made the far wing, the stomach and the close wing out of different shapes. The far wing and the belly are two distinctly different kind of curves and the wing that is closest to us is more angular with more of a decisive break where the wing changes direction. This creates a more interesting breakup of negative space between the three lines which creates a tension and makes for a better drawing. It also creates a rhythm between the three lines that is interesting to the eye.

Just run your eyes back and forth between the two sets of curves and you can see the difference.

This seems simple...and it is...but it's not always easy to remember to apply it to drawings. I think when we learn to draw we learn certain ways of drawing things: for example, an elbow is either drawn as a straight line (when the arm is straight) or a 90 degree bend (when the arm is bent). I think, as we learn to draw, we try to restrict the kinds of shapes that we have to learn in order to make it easier on ourselves. We learn a limited "library of shapes" at first so we don't get overwhelmed.

But that leads to a repitition of forms in a drawing. Which leads to flatness in drawing. And it leads to uninteresting drawings. The truth about living forms is that they don't really follow those rules. An elbow is never a 90 degree angle in real life and it's never a straight line either.

But any real living form is much more complicated than any formula we are taught. We've all seen life drawing books that tell you to draw the forearm as a simple cylinder. But a real forearm is very complicated - it's made of two bones covered by many muscles and tendons. A real forearm isn't even straight - it has a change of direction 2/3rds of the way from elbow to wrist.

Real living forms are very complicated. But the point of art isn't to capture life with all of it's can do that just fine. An artist caricatures the world, filters it, makes choices. An artist emphasizes some things and de-emphasizes other things to make a statement.

Anyway, what I am trying to say is this:

You have to free yourself to be able to draw forms in whatever shape you need to do a good drawing. Learning the structure of things is very important. When you begin learning the structure of things as a beginning artist, I think you first have to go through a period where you learn to become facile in drawing the structure of things, moving them around, working with them. Eventually, you move past the stage where you are struggling with the structure and you learn to interpret the structure in the way that works best for the drawing you are making.

A bent elbow can be a 90 degree angle if that works best for the design of the drawing. Or it can be curved. Or it can be an S-curve, as it is in real life. You can bend the forms to your will - make them what they need to be to make your drawing work. Make them be what will contribute to the best statement and/or the best design. If it looks right, then it is right. Design is more important than accurate structure!

Okay...that got pretty heady for a post that started with a simple Iago drawing. I hope that makes sense and is helpful.


per hardestam said...

Thanks! Simple and useful.

Dave said...

Agreed, thank you!

Anonymous said...

great info, I guess this is the kind of knowledge that one would aquire only after years of being an assistant to a master draftsman. thanks!

Randeep Katari said...

Hey Mr. Kennedy
This is great, thanks. It's amazing how right now, one has to think about lines they are putting down, whereas I'm almost sure, that the person who did this drawing had it sort of just flow from them. It's pretty amazing when you think about it.
Now I know in a more tangible sense where I need to be.


Marmax said...

I like that you not only say what works but WHY it works. Great post!

Will said...

Great observations. Your examples are extremely helpful and insightful. Thanks for taking the time to help me better understand design!

Sam Nielson said...

Whoa! Great quote at the end there about structure versus working out what's right for the drawing.

Anonymous said...

This was great, would love to see more examples of this type.

I am finding myself at the point where I am starting to try to design in my figure drawing class instead of just "copying" the figure. Which is funny because the times where I actually design(control) the drawing the more it "looks" like the pose. Still a babe in the woods with this stuff so this post was fantastic for me


tulanoodle said...

It seems to obvious now! If only I had thought about these things earlier. I guess that's why you write about them huh?

MisterZoobadoo said...

great advice!

Jayenti Collins said...

you have such a simple way of making hard concepts a lot easier to understand. loved the post!

Philip said...

Are there other posts on your blog covering character design? I would love to learn more.

mark kennedy said...

Thanks for all of the nice feedback. Yes, Granny, there are many more posts on character design...check the archives.

Jose Miguel said...

Dear Mark,

I am a lecturer in Computer Science in a Spanish University, and a beginner in Arts. I want to give my most sincere thanks to you for your effort and help in maintaining this blog, as well as to the people who contribute to it. I am learning a lot of new things.

Regarding this post, I think one can obtain the same conclusion when observing the small rabbit on the upper right corner of a previous post (D&D7: Rhythm). I would have drawn the upper legs (the “hands”) as parallel legs, but as we can see they are not in the sketch. This gives the rabbit a more natural pose. The same happens with the lower legs.

All best wishes,
Jose Miguel.

party for my enemies said...

I love your blog! There's so much great information that its so hard to take in but its really great. Thanks!!

MadameGaston said...

Thank you for this great post!

I must be the only person this stupid, but I gotta say, it took me a while after reading and looking this over to realize that those 2 drawings in red was Iago's middle, and not somebody's backside! wow. :)

Thanks again

Jenny said...

You always write this killer stuff and end on such a humble note: "hope it's helpful"! You're darn tootin' it's helpful! Where's that book, man!

Anyway, enjoy your vacation and--GREAT POST! I learned a lot, as always. You make my head hurt! ; )

Gavin Ball said...

Thank you Mark, your site is like a beacon to those of us who are looking for answers to design questions.

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