Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Tom Oreb's Portrait of Ward Kimball

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!

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Contrast and Composition

When you first approach a drawing, think about using contrast to make the picture interesting. Many succesful pictures are based simply around the concept of placing two things together that have great contrast between them.

There are endless contrasts to exploit: big vs. small, mechanical vs. organic, rough vs. smooth, etc.

Click to get a better look.

Many pictures that play on big vs. small have the big subject on one side and the small object on the other. That would seem to result in an unbalanced composition, but it doesn't when you do it right. In this famous painting, the fact that Christina's face can't be seen makes her a little less interesting than if she was facing us. The result is that she doesn't become too interesting in comparison with the buildings. Also there is a lot of detail on the house that's on the right and detail tends to draw your eye and also serves to give the house more visual "weight" than if it were just a blank silhouette (like the structure in the center). So even though the house is smaller than the girl it has just as much visual impact.

The way the detail is balanced in the picture is really nice: the girl's dress is very simple - just a pink open shape, free of detail - and it's set against the busy texture of the grass. So there's contrast between simple and complex areas that's pleasing to the eye. Then the grass detail ends so that the house becomes set against a blank plot of ground as well as a blank area of sky. So the house detail creates a complex area against a simple area as well. And having that happen on both sides helps to balance the picture too.

Cover the house in the middle with your hand. Now the picture doesn't work, right? This picture is actually based on a triangular shape. Your eye goes to the girl first, and then to the detailed house, and then drifts over to the central building, then back to the girl and through the circle again (so you could call it a circular composition as well, I guess). When you remove that middle structure, your eye goes from the girl to the right-hand house and then slides off into the sky at the left and off the page. Very unsatisfying! This picture (like all good pictures) does a very good job of controlling the way your eye experiences it. The way her body is placed to lead you into the picture is really cool. Her leg and arm pull you in and thrust you into the picture, and her other arm supports her so she feels solidly placed and also provides the accent that makes the sweep of her body work. And the fence and tire tracks do a great job of keeping your eye from shooting off the page, yet they feel entirely natural and organic.

In general - and this is really a loose rule - it's better to keep bigger objects closer to the middle of the page and smaller objects can be further away, closer to the sides. You can see how having big objects near the edges of the frame can make the picture feel like it's going to "tip over".

More on this to come.

A New Approach

For a while I won't have as much time to blog as I have in the past. The thing that makes blogging such a daunting task for me is that I have always tried to cover a subject completely and exhausitively in each post. I rarely suceed, and it's a lot of pressure and it makes blogging more of a chore than the fun exercise it should be. So I am going to try and write mini-posts that are a bit more haphazard in their approach. I think it will focue more on analyzing drawings that happen to strike my fancy. I enjoy doing that kind of stuff and I get a lot out of it myself.

Hopefully you will too.