Saturday, February 17, 2007

Tom Oreb Draws Ward, Part 3

This is another of Tom Oreb's gag drawings of Ward Kimball. This one is particularly interesting to analyze. At first glance it's hard to decipher why it works, yet it undeniably does. So I'll dive in and try to figure out what is going on here.

Without a face to draw the viewer's eye or a clear center of interest Tom relied on other things to make sure you look at the right things in the picture.

Again, this one has a very strong control of values. Again, black against white draws the eye and it seems to me that Tom placed black against white in a kind of circular pattern that draws your eye around the picture. When you look at the drawing, your eye starts at the top and travels down to Ward's figure and back up to the top in a nice circular composition.

Now maybe this is a bad scan or scan of a copy, but it appears that he put black against white in these areas: right above the top of the drawing board, to the right, above the stack of paper, the top of the drawer, under Ward's prone figure, On Ward's rear end against the legs of the chair, the back of the chair, and above the left-hand stack of paper.

Now at least when I look at it, that's how my eye experiences it. My eye flows from one area of black against white to the next in a clockwise way.

The drawing is mostly made up of rectangles and square shapes. The lamp, the wastebasket and Ward's inert form stand out because they are all organic shapes which contrast with all the squares. Those contrasts draw your eye and also seem to lead your eye in a circular pattern around the frame. And the space underneath the desk and the chair legs create a frame for Ward's torso and legs. That's a very brave choice, and one that people are usually hesitant to make: breaking up your main figure by putting foreground elements in front of it. We are usually inclined to put our main figure "in the clear": silhouetting it clearly so all of it can be seen. Tom didn't put everything on the clear, but he put the important stuff in the clear: the hand, the suspenders, the shoes, the pant cuffs and the waist line are all well drawn and very clear. When placed in the right proportions to each other they add up to a solid-feeling figure. The pant cuffs, waistline and wrinkles all do a great job of describing how the form lays in space. The suspenders wrap around the form well too. Even the simplest drawing can seem to exist well in space when done right.

This drawing follows a "rule" I read once somewhere: that a good tonal scheme for a drawing is to make it 50% grey, 25% black and 25% white. I can't help but think of this as the "Neopolitan" rule, because I made a chart of it once to help remember it, and it looked like Neopolitan ice cream:

For those of you who don't know, this is Neopolitan ice cream. Man, who likes that stuff? Why mess up perfectly good chocolate ice cream with Strawberry and Vanilla?

Saturday, February 10, 2007

More Oreb on Ward

Contrast is such a powerful tool that many pictures derive all of their interest from contrast alone.

Click to see all of the pictures in this post bigger.

This picture works by playing on simple yet powerful contrasts. Tall against short, contrast of shape and rough texture against smooth texture. Any picture with one character looking at something can work very well by creating a kind of "closed circuit". The viewer's eye travels back and forth between the character's gaze and what the character is focusing on. Check out how great the balance of shape sizes is: there are a great variety of small medium and large shapes and areas of detail balanced against big open blank spaces. The contrast of that big open overcoat to the small cigarette, ashes and wisp of smoke is really exciting to the eye.

These things all work so well that Tom breaks one of the most basic rules of composition: never have two objects that are equally weighted in the same frame.

Having two equally weighted things in the same picture divides the viewer's interest and flattens out the picture because both sides of the picture have the same emphasis. So if you have a picture with just two things in it you should always make one more dominant and one lees dominant. Like making one higher than the other or one more towards the center and the other off to the side.

When you do this, you want to be careful that you don't break the other most basic rule of composition: Don't ever put anything in the exact center of the picture frame, because, again, that divides the space into two exactly equal halves and flattens everything out.

Back to the rule about two evenly weighted objects: artists break this all the time for the purpose of showing how similar or how different two things are. If you put two things exactly side-by-side it's a clear cue to the viewer to compare and contrast those two things. Political cartoonists do this all the time.