Despite the fact that not too many people seemed interested in my previous post about - and analysis of - the French artist Sempé, I wanted to share some more of his work with everyone, and maybe if people were put off by all of the words I wrote then they can just skip all the blather and just look at the pictures (click to see bigger).
Part of the resolution issue is that, sadly, the two books I have were printed on rather rough, cheap paper, hardly appropriate for the subtleties of his drawings! Ah well, click to see all of these bigger.
I shouldn't be surprised about the lack of interest in his work. I am about to make a huge generalization*, but it seems that the vast majority of people - both artists and casual viewers - gravitate more towards artists who are "showy", who put a lot of detail into their work and don't leave much to the imagination. One of my early posts was about Jack Davis and the fact that he draws to such a high level of concentrated detail in some of his drawings, and about how I found that his drawings worked so much better when he would suggest detail rather than drawing all of it, or simplify areas of detail so that they weren't fully drawn out. I was very surprised back then that nobody seemed to agree with me - when I went so far as to say that I found that some of his drawings became unappealing when they were too crowded with detail I got a bit of a backlash.
I never said that Mr. Davis doesn't draw well; but drawing well and drawing appealingly are two totally different areas. Then again it is easy for people to agree on who draws well and who doesn't, but when it comes to deciding what is "appealing" things become much more subjective and it becomes clear that everyone has a different definition of what makes a drawing appealing.
I find Sempé's work to be very appealing. Just like Quentin Blake, I love the way Sempé's work only has the minimum of what is required to make the statement he intends. Even Alex Toth, who most people would agree draws quite well, said that he felt like he didn't really know how to draw well until he figured out "what to leave out". Unfortunately, I think that to most observers, when an artist streamlines and leaves a lot of things out, it appears that the artist doesn't know how to draw, and I just couldn't agree less with that way of thinking.
Some of Quentin Blake's work.
I would make the comparison that when you watch a superb athlete play a sport, they make it look easy. Part of the reason it looks easy is because an athlete who knows what he (or she) is doing doesn't make any extra unnecessary movements or actions. On the other hand, watching an amateur can make the same sport look extremely difficult because the amateur expends a lot of extra energy and makes a lot more extra superfluous movements as he or she flails around trying to accomplish the same things that the professional does with a practiced minimum of effort.
I would say that the same thing applies to drawing. Don't make the mistake of thinking that a simple drawing is indicative of an artist who can't draw. Two of the hardest parts of drawing are knowing how to put everything in the right place and being able to make your drawings communicate what you intend them to mean. Both Blake and Sempé excel at this, often far beyond other artists - even those who add much more detail and fussiness to their drawings in an effort to cover up or shore up the fact that they've fallen down in these two other basic areas.
There are plenty of artists out there who do draw very simply and poorly as well; those artists who actually can't draw but hide behind a simplistic "style" to try and hide the fact that they don't really know what they're doing. The easiest way to tell the difference is the two areas mentioned above, especially the first. These types of people are easy to spot because they never put things in the right place. When Blake dashes off a sketch of a person, the elbows are always in the right place, the head always feels like it's placed correctly on the neck,etc. - all of the elements always feel like they add up to one clear idea. A good artist knows that they can dash off a quick sketch like this and then, if need be, later they can come back and go over the drawing and add detail if need be. As long as all of the pieces are placed correctly and the idea is communicating, then all of thinking has already been done and cleaning up the drawing is just an academic exercise. An amateur artist is one who thinks that doing a quick sketch just means drawing a sloppy scribble without effort. This type of person doesn't understand the difference between a quick sketch with all of the information placed correctly and a doodle that doesn't require much artistic effort at all.
Above all else keep in mind that this blog is written by a storyboard artist, and I can't help but write about drawing as I've come to understand it in relation to my profession. A story artist has every reason to learn to draw simply and communicate with as little effort as possible because a story artist has to think about building a whole story and a whole film as he or she draws. A story artist isn't focused as much on each drawing as they are on how the ideas stack up, build, and create a story and world of characters. Story artists churn out thousands (yes, thousands) of drawings over the course of a movie, and unlike an animator or a layout person, when a story artist draws they have no idea if that drawing will survive for an hour, a day, a week or three years before the idea behind it changes or is improved and the whole thing will have to be redrawn. So good story artists - for practical purposes, as well as for their own sanity - learn to draw with economy and learn how to say a lot with a minimum of effort, because they have to churn out so many drawings one after another. Detail and complicated drawings don't do much to help tell the story and any artist that spends too much time and effort on those unimportant areas in a story sketch will soon become very frustrated and move on to another department.
So those of us who pursue our lives doing storyboards could do a lot worse than to learn from Sempé. His staging is always flawless. He places the camera wherever it will best tell the story, and always has the subject as near to or as far away from the camera as will best put over the idea. He draws just enough to convey his idea and give us a real sense of where the scene is taking place. And his expressions and body language are always very clear and just right for the moment. His expressions are easy to dismiss, I suppose, because sometimes they might seem broad, but other times he tackles such subtle ideas and puts over such sublime human experiences and emotions that they would never work unless he was able to handle them with just the right touch and the right acting and expression for the moment. His carefully calibrated expressions and poses are amazingly precise for each idea, and it cannot be understated how impossibly difficult this can be, no matter how "simply" the drawing may be handled.
More than anything else, this is what suggests we study Sempé and try to apply what he does to storyboarding; the subject matter he chooses to portray. Some of his cartoons are broad and instantly "gettable", but many of his ideas are so well observed - he manhttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifages to express some of the moments between people that we can all recognize, yet we don't really stop to think about them when they happen, or even if we did, we don't have the right words to describe (although admittedly I didn't scan many of that type here, because they tend to be spread out over several pages) - and that would be such a great thing to get into animation that we could do a lot worse than aspire to be as wonderful as Sempé. Not to mention the fact that most of his work communicates everything without resorting to the "crutch" of dialogue or the written word - another thing that animation should aspire to, but rarely ever does these days.
All of these Sempé drawings are from "Nothing is Simple".
*I believe it was Fox Connor who was credited as saying "All generalizations are untrue, including this one".