Sunday, December 23, 2007

Happy Holidays!

Merry Christmas to those who celebrate it and a wish for a happy holiday season to those who don't. This is a Christmas card that Bill Peet sent out to his friends long ago.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Art Appreciation: Sempé

Sempé is a French artist who draws beautifully simple and elegant cartoons. His stuff is very reminiscent of several artists who contribute cartoons to The New Yorker.

His stuff is amazingly well observed, thought out and drawn. His work always centers around the funny ways that people think and much of the humor comes from the weaknesses and foibles that people have.

Take a look at this one. This cartoon really knocks me out, on so many levels. Click to see it big enough to appreciate.

The composition is so great. The big area on the left of his driveway and garden is totally balanced by the small area on the right that is smaller but has as much weight as the big side on the left, because the right-side area has more tone and contrast and also more activity because the figures have dynamic poses while the left side is very static because there isn't anything alive or moving over there.

It's such a great idea to divide the two ideas in the picture with the big house. It separates the two ideas so that you can compare and contrast the two ideas: a rich man who has everything in the world he could ever want, and yet he takes the most pride in the most humble of his accomplishments: he managed to grow a head of lettuce.

Notice how useful that wheelbarrow behind him is: if you cover it up, it affects the picture. First, it allows him to have some black against his white clothes so that the contrast draws your eye to him; he is the most important element in those figures and they all have a lot of contrast (with their black clothes and white faces) so he needs to have some contrast to compete with them for the viewer's attention. Also it seems to me that the dark area of the wheelbarrow helps keep your eye from sliding off the right-hand side of the page. The little tiny flower behind his head seems to help keep your eye bouncing back and forth between his face and those of his friends. The friend of his that's kneeling is great because of the variation he adds to the poses of the group. Imagine how static the group would be without him there. He and the two figures in the left foreground help create - along with the lettuce and the proud homeowner - a great little circle that makes your eye rotate around that lettuce in a closed circuit, which is great because that gives the lettuce so much more importance and prominence. Take a second to look at how great the poses of his friends are: such great variety in them, and also how they work together compositionally to lean in towards the lettuce and then to lean away as they move to the right so that the homeowner can be alone and silhouetted.

I love the homeowner's pose: so clearly proud of his lettuce and yet so simply drawn. Usually when people draw "proud" they puff the chest out in the drawing. Yet without that cliché it still works beautifully and much more effectively. His pose definitely looks like an older, overweight rich guy.

The other side of the estate is so beautifully handled as well. It's so easy to just glance at the left and think "oh, I get it; he's wealthy" and then get the idea and turn the page. That's what's so amazing about a great artist: when they are so good that they can put over an idea so simply and clearly - and precisely - that you don't really think about just how great a job they did of handling it. Everything that says he's a rich man is so perfectly handled. From the types of cars he drew - either they have fins or they are small convertible sports cars, both great "shorthand" to say "expensive" - to the way the plants are handled contribute to the idea that he has a lot of wealth. Instead of just being hedges, the hedges have been turned into topiaries, which only the wealthy would bother to maintain like that. And the little arrow shapes of the topiaries are just complicated enough to look fancy without being so distracting as to draw unnecessary attention to them, for they are not important as individual ideas but for what they contribute to the whole.

I also love how the diving board above the pool is so frilly and fancy. And the great approach of making the area have so many "levels" - that helps with the idea that the area goes back into space, but since it keeps "stepping up" in space you can see all of it and see it very well as it recedes. But it also gives you the chance to draw all those different levels of fancy stairs and those fancy walls with the little pillars.

Lastly, the house is handled so well. It's drawn perfectly to say "expensive house". You glance at it and thing "okay, wealthy house" but it's just so precisely done. Take a second to look at the way the front entrance is handled so well. The stairs and the way the little banisters leading up to the door and so simple and yet so perfect to say that they're elegant. Also the edges of the house with the squares - I don't even know what those are or what they're called but I know I've seen them before in pictures of fancy European estates. What simple and obvious yet brilliant observation! And the details above the windows and the balconies really add a lot, as well as dividing up the windows into so many little panes. This gives a great sense of scale to the house and makes it look big but it also makes the windows look elegant and fancy.

Lastly, the texture on the roof seems really busy at first glance - why put so much detail up there? - but you'll notice that, again, it adds to making the scale of the house seem big, and it's also gives a much-needed balance to that part of the picture. If that roof was blank it would make the top half of the picture look empty and flat. It wouldn't balance well with the "busy" areas of the garden and the estate on the lower left and right.

If you enjoyed looking at this cartoon of Sempé's, there are several of his books available on I definitely urge everyone to check out his stuff - you won't be disappointed. I will scan some more of his stuff sometime if people are interested. This cartoon is from a collection called "Everything is Complicated".

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Ken Anderson's AMAZONIA (part two)

Well, everybody seems to enjoy Ken Anderson drawings. Here's more from his trip to South America (see below).

And here's an original from my personal collection. A few years ago I bought a packet of Ken's drawings that I think were from a project called "Scruffy" that never got made at Disney. It was about orangutans fighting on the side of the British during WWII. I don't know much more about it than that, but also in the packet were drawings of Nazi spiders. This was the only one I had framed because it was the only one in color. It was done with his usual Mont Blanc fountain pen - his tool of choice in that era. I scanned it through the frame, but it looks pretty good anyway. If I can find the rest of the drawings from that packet, I will scan them.

Click to see all of these images bigger.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Tips on Drawing Clutter

At work last week I was trying to draw a cramped small space with a lot of clutter in it. That's one of those kind of drawing challenges that nobody ever talks about and it can be difficult to know how to dive into something like that when you are first starting out. As usual for me, I drew it and redrew it until I came up with something that worked, and after I was done I could articulate how I ended up making it work, but unfortunately I couldn't have told you how to do it before I started. Anyway, hopefully if I write it down I will remember how to approach it next time and maybe I will save you the hassle of blundering through it yourself.

Of course, there's no great secret here, just use the same design principles you should use when doing any kind of drawing. Firstly, use a good variety of small, medium and large shapes. If the clutter is all small shapes it will look too busy and fussy and be hard on the eyes. All large shapes and it starts to lose the feeling of clutter, and it might start to look like the camera is zoomed in real close or that the space around it is real small, like we're looking at a collection of stuff in a shoebox or something. Also, variety and contrast makes any drawing more interesting, so that's the best reason to use a mix of differently sized shapes.

Although we're trying to draw clutter, you don't want to cover every inch with detail. It's important to remember to leave some blank areas for the eye to rest (these could be the large objects of clutter we talked about above). If every last piece if the drawing is covered with shapes and lines the eye will get tired very quickly. Remember that lots of pencil mileage is not the best way to convey a cluttered space. Also, the blank areas will provide contrast to the really cluttered areas and, ironically, make the space feel more cluttered by comparison.

Also be sure to use a variety of types of shapes - round, square, and everything in between for nice visual variety. And here's the key - and the hard part - plan out your drawing carefully so that no round shapes are next to (or overlap) other round shapes, no square shapes are next to (or overlap) other square shapes, etc. I think that this is the most important part: spacing out your shapes so that you have enough variety in shapes and also so that no similar shapes touch or are near each other. This is the biggest factor in keeping the drawing from looking like a confusing mess of lines that don't add up to anything.

Surely there are better examples of clutter drawings but this is what I had handy. Ken Anderson drew great clutter. It's worth pointing out that usually when you are drawing a cluttered environment, it's in service of describing the character and personality that inhabits the space. Notice how all of the items scattered around Roger's house describe the fact that he's a musician and also hints that he's a bachelor - there's no feminine stuff at all. speaking of which, he drew the Dalmatian (below) anatomically correct for some reason(click to see these all bigger).

Also, don't draw any lines that are parallel to each other, or to the edges of the picture frame (in other words, straight up and down). Parallel lines denote order and if you want to indicate a confusion or a mess, make sure that all the lines point indifferent directions.

From the Famous Artist Course - Robert Fawcett takes about creating confusion in a drawing by making sure all the lines point different ways. Click to see bigger and read the caption at the bottom.

A great sample of clutter by in a Bill Peet storyboard from "Sword in the Stone". Here he did all the above and also relied on tones to help separate the forms from each other and also to eliminate having to draw detail on the forms that would have been distracting. This panel is a closeup of Merlin's workbench with a bunch of models, and notice his use of everyday objects in the frame to give it a sense of scale so the viewer won't think that they're looking at a collection of real full-size trains, boats and airplanes.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Ken Anderson's AMAZONIA (part one)

UPDATE 12/4: I fixed the image tags so that the images will open in a new browser window and not prompt you to download the images (it was a blogger issue, not my fault!)

A very generous person named Michael Mele contacted me and xeroxed these pages (below) for me. They were done by Ken Anderson, apparently while on a trip to South America (I don't know why each page is divided into four quadrants).

What I do know is that Ken and his wife used to travel quite frequently (earlier I posted some sketches from one of their safaris to Africa) and that Ken always drew on these trips. Someone at Disney told me that Ken used to return from these trips and xerox all of his sketches from the trip, bind them into books and hand them out to his fellow Disney employees. However, the person that told me this made it sound like most artists didn't ask for them and didn't really want them. I got the feeling that most people thought it was a little arrogant to walk around handing out copies of your drawings to other artists. So from what I heard most of the copies went right into the trash.

These are great to see because they're not all polished pieces of finished artwork like most of what we see of Ken's work. Some are beautiful, most are just great quick sketches and some are just observations about things he saw. Ken's stuff was very original because he was interested in the world around him. He observed and recorded all he could to add inspiration and authenticity to his work.

I know the quality isn't great on some of these, but xeroxing was still pretty primitive in 1974. Also, some of the pages have images that are facing different directions - hopefully it is easy enough for everyone to either print these out or download them and rotate them within a graphics program. If that's not easy then let me know and I can re-post them at different angles. Click to see bigger.

There are quite a few pages and I will definitely post them all, but be patient because I hate scanning and I am very busy these days! A big thanks to Michael Mele for sharing them with all of us, because otherwise they would be lost to the world, which would be a real shame.