I don't know who creates the Myspace pages for deceased animators and artists but recently someone posted these great Tom Oreb drawings of Ward Kimball on Tom's page.
I am fascinated by these gag drawings because they are very appealing and well-designed and yet look so effortless and easy. They seem so light and offhand that it's hard to even see what makes them have such an impact. So I thought I would take a look and try and figure out what makes this one work so well.
Click to see bigger.
First of all you should always remember that contrast draws the eye. An area where black is set against white will always attract the eye first. Even though the tones might look to an untrained eye like they are applied in a slapdash fashion they are placed very effectively and carefully. The places where black touches the white of the paper are the train and traintracks, the easel, Ward's shoes, the upper right hand side of the tree trunk and the train tunnel. These areas all create a circle around the center of interest, which is Ward.
As your eye enters the frame, it hits the easel first, then moves over Ward, up to the upper right tree trunk, over to the tunnel entrance, across the traintracks to the train and around the tracks to Ward again. Along the way your eyes take in the trombone, airplane, house, chair and everything else that lies along the way. Ward's pose even follows the flow of the composition. It's clear that Ward is the object of the composition because he has the most detail on his shape, which, of course, always gives more visual "weight" to an object. All of the shapes that surround him create a nifty "frame-within-the-frame" around him too, which helps separate him out as the important part without making him feel isolated or closed-off. The record album(?) and trombone below Ward are very important elements. Without them your eye would slide right off the bottom of the page. They help keep your eye moving through the big circle. The apples on the tree are important too. They help swing your eye across the top of the page and that one apple that hangs down points beautifully back to Ward. The same can be said about the birds in the sky and the far-off hill on the left hand side of the page. If you cover the birds with your finger you can see that without them there would be a big empty spot that would take away from the harmony and balance of the piece. That far-off hill has an important function, as well. If you removed that far-off hill at the left (try it with your hand) then the diagonal of the hill in front of it becomes too strong. It would lead your eye right off the left-hand side of the paper. Also having the train tracks on that far-off hill point back into the picture is very helpful. It's just one more element pointing back at Ward, the most important element of the picture.
Notice that almost every element in the picture is overlapped to some extent by something that is in front of it - except Ward. The overlapping shapes give a great sense of depth to even the most simply drawn elements in the drawing. And a great way to minimize an object in a drawing is to only show part of it by either making part of it go out of the frame or overlapping it with another object. This tells the viewer it is not as important as objects that are shown in their entirety.
Even in the most simple-looking dashed off doodle there can be a lot of thought when the artist is as superb as Tom Oreb. The way you can tell that there's a lot of good stuff going on in the picture is that it has a pleasing effect on the eye. Just looking at it gives you a little thrill, doesn't it? Look for that, and when you see it in a picture, ask yourself what it is that works so well about it!