Like many of my posts, this one started out all about something different - shadows and how they can be used to show form and space in a drawing. But as I wrote the post I realized that I have always meant to talk about getting space and form into drawings without tone and shadow...so that seemed like a good topic to cover first. So that's the subject of this post - shadows will be in a future installment. All of this stuff may seem totally obvious, but I would be remiss if I didn't cover this stuff before moving into the more complicated topic of using tone and shadow to show space (which also covers some pretty obvious stuff, now that I think about it. Anyway...)
The simplest, easiest way to get depth in a line drawing (or any drawing) isOverlapping things to show which are in front and which are behind. Again, this may seem totally obvious but many beginners seem hesitant to do this - I guess covering up things and not showing all of an object seems like cheating somehow. Here's a very simple example from "Calvin and Hobbes". No tones here to speak of, just simple overlap: one piece of paper overlaps the other and the table overlaps the characters.
Another trick Bill Watterson uses here is that the notebook on the left and Susie's arm leave the picture space and their edges are cut off. That's a great trick for making it seem like the world of the picture extends past the edges of the frame and makes it feel like it has depth.
These are by an artist named Cosey and from "Lost in the Alps". In the first example, notice how the feeling of depth is achieved. There's not a lot of fancy perspective, the buildings don't have any perspective on them because they are parallel to the viewer. So there's just three flat overlapping planes: the man in the foreground, the building in the middle ground and the mountains in the background. The three of them overlap each other very simply to create space.
More of the same. Click all of these to see bigger.
Again, simplicity can be used to create depth very easily: rocks overlapping each other recede in space and create space.
Surface lines help show form and that creates depth.
The interior lines you draw on a figure, object or background should always tell the viewer something about the form that the lines wrap around or sit on top of. Lines should never be placed haphazardly without reason to be there. They describe form.
Wrinkles in clothes are the best example of this. Most animated characters have very simple suggestions as far as the clothes they are wearing, so each line must do a good job of wrapping around the form underneath. A single sloppily placed crease will destroy the feeling of a three dimensional figure.
Brom Bones: the way his vest sits on his body describes his form well, as do his rolled shirtsleeves, his collar and the way his hat sits on his head. All are carefully drawn to wrap around the form.
Why does Ariel have a strap that holds her clamshells in place? Well, yes, it probably would be creepy if her back was totally bare but it would also lead to some graphic ambiguity. There are several scenes in the movie where she is seen from behind and without that strap it would be hard to show the orientation of her torso in space - so the strap enables us to know if her torso is leaning towards us or away from us by the way the strap is drawn to describe the form of her back in space.
Milt Caniff drew the bejesus out of wrinkles. Here, he takes on the dangerous task of drawing a rather doughy figure wearing a big and shapeless garment. That's two challenges at once and in lesser hands you could easily end up with a big blobby mess. Here he uses a lot of wrinkles to describe the body under the clothes and creates a lot of depth.
We tend to think of clothes wrinkles as being the best (and only) way to describe the forms underneath the clothes, and in animated figures that is usually all we get, but in other areas artists use all kinds of textures to create a feeling of three dimensions. In these examples (again by Milt Caniff) notice how, in one panel, he describes an amazing variety of textures. In the foreground alone, he skillfully and carefully describes the textures of leather gloves and jackets, with the fleece collars drawn differently so we can tell exactly what they are supposed to be. The two main characters are each wearing a different kind of hat and each is drawn differently so we can tell what kind of fabric each is made of. The hair of both characters is drawn so we can tell where the hair is and we would never confuse the hair with the clothes. The hair is drawn (relatively) simply but very dimensionally. It is made to wrap around each person's head and the highlights show us which part is closer to us and how the light is playing across it...all of this in black and white with no middle tone to help out.
And that's just talking about the foreground. Some of the characters in the background are wearing caps and some are wearing helmets and we can immediately identify which is which. Even the rolled-up fabric awnings in the deep background are simply handled but there is no confusion as to what they are.
Caniff uses more detail on the surfaces that are close to the camera and less detail on the surfaces as they become farther away from us...another good trick for creating space. Obviously when things that are right in front of our face we can see more detail. As they move farther away from us we see less of the detail. Look at the hair of Steve Canyon in the foreground and then look at the guy standing right behind him to the left. Steve's hair and clothes are drawn with much more detail and texture than the other guy because he's closer to us (and the center of attention). Notice how many more lines there are in Steve's hair than in the other guy. Also the guy who's further away from us is drawn with thinner lines - yet another good way to create depth. thicker lines look closer to us. Thinner lines look further away.
Clothes are the most obvious example but remember that of course surface lines can describe any kind of form. Here Caniff creates some cool three dimensional planes in the street and buildings in the background by using meticulous surface lines. He also gets a lot of depth by putting tone on the foreground object and leaving tone off the background...always a good technique for separating foreground and background.
A couple more very simple Caniff examples. In both cases, the aluminum texture of the airplane plays well off the more organic texture of the ocean below. The detail of the airplane texture contrasted against the relative simplicity of the ocean below gives a simple, effective and easily-read sense of space.
Nobody is better at drawing textures and surfaces in stark black and white than Caniff, in my uneducated opinion anyway. I don't know much about comic book artists and I'm sure there are zillions of guys that do this kind of stuff well, but Caniff seems to have had a limit range and imagination when it came to depicting textures. You can just tell when an artist is "faking it" and doesn't quite know how to handle a texture, or when the artist didn't quite nail what he was trying to draw. You never get that sense with Caniff, he nailed everything and he tackled every sublect fearlessly! Somewhere in one of my Caniff books I remember seeing panels of a boat being tossed on a stormy sea at night, all depicted in black and white brush and ink. I can't imagine ever knowing how to do that, it was amazing. Someday I'll find it and post it.
Anyway, all of this is to show that you can handle these things very simply or with a lot of complexity, depending on your need. For most storyboarding and animation drawing purposes, a simple suggestion of depth is all that you need.
It probably goes without saying, but using perspective to your advantage can be very effective at showing depth in a drawing. The two easiest ways are by showing line that recede to the vanishing point or by showing identical objects that diminish in height as they recede in space.
Here are two of the simplest examples possible of these two techniques from Harvey Kurtzman. Here is a strip that takes place in a naval shipyard. In the two big panels, take a look at how much depth he gets with simple techniques. In both of the large panels, lines converge as they move back into space towards the vanishing point. Also there are repeated objects in both that diminish as they get further away from us - in both panels, look at the blocks that the ship sits upon and note how they are drawn so that they get progressively smaller as they get further away from us. This probably seems ridiculously obvious (and it is) but it's one of the best tricks for getting depth into your work. Also the way he drew the two piles in the bottom panel gets a good sense of depth because one pile is bigger than the other, suggesting perspective, and one overlaps the other.
Here the simple use of lines (in this case "crop furrows") that converge towards the vanishing point to suggest depth in a simple drawing.
Let's go back to that idea of the blocks that held up the ship and how Kurtzman used them to suggest simple perspective. If you draw objects (like those blocks) that repeat regularly and get smaller and smaller as they move towards the horizon, our eye seems to accept that very well as a depth cue (telephone poles along the side of the road are the usual example for this). Taking this trick one step further is to draw an object in the foreground and then repeat that object in the middleground and/ or background. If they are drawn to look like the same kind of object, our brain assumes that they are the same height and we can use this to our advantage to imply depth across a great or small distance.
Usually we see this with trees. You see this trick all the time. In the foreground there is a large tree and in the background a whole forest of tiny trees. Our eye assumes that all the trees are roughly the same size and it creates instant depth.
It works well with trees but can work with anything and on any scale. It works in any space where there are repeated objects...remember that. If you were drawing two people sitting across from each other in a restaurant, you could get a good sense of space by drawing their plates different sizes to show who was further away, even though the difference could be pretty slight. And you could draw another table in the BG with plates on it that were even smaller. Again, we assume all of the plates are the same size and create the space in our minds. It works with grass stalks, boulders, rocks, fences, waves, cars, etc....any time you have repeated objects space.
Check out this cool drawing by Noel Sickles (who had a big influence on Caniff). Repeated trees, as well as men, parachutes, airplanes, bomb craters and everything else diminish as they move away from us in space.
Yikes, for being all about simple obvious stuff that turned into a long post and I still haven't covered everything I wanted to say. Anyway, I'll talk some more on this topic the next time. In the meantime, if you want to hear more on this topic from a different perspective (no pun intended), Walt Stanchfield wrote a few handouts that talked about this subject in his usual illuminating way. Go here and read handout #16 "Dimensional Drawing" for his take on similar material.